There are three basic perspectives regarding life after death. Some believe such notions are pure fantasy. There is no such future—no continuation of consciousness after death. We live out our days in this world, then it’s lights out. Forever.
A second perspective is held by those uncertain about life beyond the grave. Such people are generally a hopeful lot. While never brimming with confidence, they suspect there is life after death and knock on wood that the experience will be a happy one. It’s all a mysterious prospect.
A third perspective is held by those who live with confident expectation of life beyond the grave. A degree of mystery is acknowledged; but they remain convinced death is a portal leading to continuing consciousness on the other side.
People in either of the first two categories share a life orientation that focuses primarily on the rewards of this life. Some from the first category are bold enough to insist that those who die with the most toys win. Grasp all you can get now. Eat, drink, and be merry. There is no future existence and thus no reckoning or eternal reward. Others in this first category labor less selfishly, desiring to leave the world a better place than they found it. Nonetheless, the focus is on this life. There is no other for which to live.
Recently, we purchased several dozen books from a used bookstore, and were given a “freebie” book as part of the transaction. That book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, published in 2003, was by Mitch Albom, whose earlier volume Tuesdays with Morrie, we read and reviewed in As I See It 4:3. Since that earlier work was well-written, and not without some merits, and this present volume was less than 200 pages, we decided to give it a read.
Unlike the former book, which was a factual account of the physical wasting away and death of one of Albom’s college professors, this current one, though also focusing on the issue of death, but especially the afterlife, was an entirely fictitious account. The story focuses on the death of an ordinary man, one Eddie, whose life outwardly amounted to little more than being a maintenance man at a small amusement park, a life unfulfilling and frustratingly wasted doing the menial. As the story goes, after death, this man goes through a series of encounters with five different people whose lives had deeply impacted his or whose lives had been deeply impacted by him. These encounters allow him to sort through his own frustrations especially with life-altering circumstances he didn’t cause and couldn’t control, and the unanswered “whys” of his life, so that he can be at peace with himself—this process and outcome being the very purpose of the afterlife. “And they lived happily ever after.”
All nice and neat except….
The book is written from a faulty perspective. In the dedication, the author mentions an uncle,
who gave me my first concept of heaven. Every year, around the Thanksgiving table, he spoke of a night in the hospital when he awoke to see the souls of his departed loved ones sitting on the edge of the bed waiting for him. I never forgot that story.
A rather subjective premise. But it gets worse.
When my dad was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer a few years ago, quite a few changes occurred in my perspective on life and death. The brevity and fragility of life were no longer abstractions. I truly felt them. One result of this new awareness was that I began to notice all the hymns and songs with stanzas about dying.
I recall selecting some songs for Sunday school one day. As I glanced down the list of songs in our database—those we hadn’t sung in a long time, I came to a title I’d passed over many, many times. This time it gripped my attention. A song that had seemed frivolous and silly to me before now moved me deeply as words and music played involuntarily through my mind.
Some glad morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away
To a home on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away.
The congregation sang it in Sunday school. It’s providential that I was at the piano because I don’t think I could have sung it. Though it had never been more than a light, peppy trifle to me before, it was now too strong to sing.
For a while, quite a few songs were hitting me like that.
The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century triggered a fresh wave of bloody conflict in Medieval Europe—a tract of real estate across which evolving nations had suffered tumultuous relations for many dark centuries. Protestant regions broke up Rome’s monopoly on authority in Europe. Neutralizing an authority is one thing; replacing it is quite another matter, and Europe tumbled into near-anarchy. Nation warred against nation and region against region in an all-out scramble to gain control of the rudder of Europe’s destiny.
Out of the context of these chaotic and violent times sprouted a philosophy of governance known as “Monarchial Absolutism.” Absolutist political theory held that Europe’s only hope for avoiding anarchy was for monarchs of the emerging European nations to wield unrestrained power. The cohesive influence Rome had once supplied Europe could be recovered, so it was proposed, by monarchs willing to impose their will with absolute sovereignty over their subjects. (One may detect a less than ideal environment for the human rights of dissenters under such a system. The half of that tragic subplot has never been told.)
Historians generally recognize Louis XIV of France (1638-1715) as the quintessential absolutist monarch. Crowned at age five (a monarchial absolutist pre-schooler—you fill in the blanks!), Louis reigned in earnest from 1660 until his death. That translates into fifty-five years of absolute sovereignty over every aspect of French life. Every citizen, of what was at that time the most powerful nation on the continent, was expected to conform to Louis’ every belief, obey his every demand, and honor his every decision. Imagine!
Reprinted with permission from Voice, March/April, 2012.
Many Christians have read popular accounts about people who claim that they have been in heaven and have come back to report on it or that they have died and hovered over their own bodies before being brought back to life. Some of the people in my congregation have read Heaven Is For Real and 90 Minutes in Heaven, as well as other books, and have taken them as real descriptions of heaven.
Does the Bible have anything to say about these phenomena or the many accounts of visions and dreams about spiritual matters?
This is a timely topic since there are many who accept these accounts as not only being factual but as direct revelations from God. Yet someone may ask what is the harm in believing these accounts? The answer is threefold. First, we have a complete revelation from God in the Bible and we do not need any further revelation (including dreams and visions). Second, Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 12 that he was transported to heaven yet he was not allowed to speak of what he saw in heaven. Third, there are people who take these visions as confirmation that they are going to heaven when they are actually lost.
As we begin to discuss the topic at hand, we need to consider three Bible passages to give us some important insight: Ecclesiastes 5:3, 2 Corinthians 11:14-15, and 2 Corinthians 12:1-4. Whereas none of these passages are definitive when it comes to the topic of dreams and visions, they are helpful to give us a framework for discussion.